CHRISTIANS IN POLITICS - A RIGHT AND A RESPONSIBILITY
Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
"Politics, though often denigrated, " Pope Francis reminds us," remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good." In the recent Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on January 28, 2019, the local leaders of the Church echoed this same sentiment in their pastoral statement, "Seek the Common Good." Indeed in an earlier assembly, the bishops had set several guidelines for Catholics in political life. These are: pursuit of the common good; promotion of justice; a spirit of service; option for the poor; and the empowerment of people.
It is in this light that the bishops have pointed out three challenges for the Catholic laity to be actively involved during the election campaign period. The first call is to form circles of discernment. This may be actualized through Basic Ecclesial Communities, clusters of household heads among religious lay organizations, or any grouping of concerned citizens. Group discernment should be more enriching and enlightening instead of relying on one's solitary perceptions.
A second directive from the bishops runs counter to the traditional view that the church should stay neutral in politics because of the separation of Church and State. Instead, the institutional leaders of the Church have counseled the lay faithful to engage in principled partisan politics. "Principled" in the sense that Christians should be guided by moral values and first principles. "Partisan" in the sense that ultimately every voter has to choose a particular candidate representing a particular party. And "politics" in the sense that the winner in a political contest is given the legitimacy and power of decision-making for the community. Hence, the entire community are stakeholders in the choice of their leaders.
The third call for Catholics is the reminder that it is their right and their duty to vote for candidates who work for the common good. Hence, candidates should be elected not on the basis of personal favors given to the voter but on the candidate's record of public service and commitment to work for the common good.
What then are the criteria for choosing candidates for public office? Among circles of discernment, a candidate's qualifications can be summarized in five C's.
I. CONSCIENCE: Is the candidate a person of conscience, i.e., a person of moral integrity? Is he God-fearing (maka-Dios)? Does he or she respect human rights? Is he transparent and accountable for his actions? Are there no charges of corruption in his public record? "Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusions that money is a form of power," notes Pope Francis.
II. COMPETENCE: What is the educational background of the candidate? What is his or her record of service, either in government or in private life? How is his health – physically, mentally, etc.? Popularity alone as a public figure or simple name recall cannot be an assurance of competence in public office.
III. COMPASSION: Concern for the poor and marginalized should be the hallmarks of a public official. Working for social justice in addressing inequality and the root causes of mass poverty is the sign of genuine compassion. Protecting the rights of minorities and working for the empowerment of the poor are likewise attributes of the compassionate leader.
IV. COMPANIONS: Who are the candidate's supporters and advisers? What is their reputation and integrity? Does he belong to a political party with a clear platform? Or does he join a political alliance out of convenience or personal interest? Is he a member of a political dynasty -- in a vertical or horizontal sense?
V. COMMITMENT: Does the candidate show political will to attain his objectives? Does he hold on to key principles - e.g., maka-tao, maka-bayan, maka-kalikasan? What is his stand on key issues, such as peace-building in Mindanao and peace negotiations with insurgent groups, protection of the environment, anti-poverty measures foreign relations?
These then are five C's or key criteria for choosing candidates vying for public office. Through circles of discernment, may every concerned voter engage in principled partisan politics for the common good of our nation.